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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/832

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duty (which many may regard as a mere trifle), may be not only perfectly consistent with regard for others, and even with devotion to others, but may be absolutely essential to the proper discharge of our duties toward others. In fact, it is little more than a truism, instead of being, as many would at a first view imagine, a paradox, that the more earnest our wish to increase the happiness of others, the more carefully must we look after our own welfare.

If we take a wider view, and, instead of considering a single life, study the development of families and races, we still find the same lesson. As the man who wishes his life to be useful to his fellows and to increase their happiness must take care of that life, so he who would wish to benefit humanity through his family or race must not only nourish his own life and strength, but must develop those activities which advance his own welfare and the welfare of his family. Otherwise come, inevitably, the dwindling of the faculties on which his own value depends, and the loss in his descendants of good qualities which they might otherwise have inherited from him. Or it may be that such qualities are inherited in less degree than had he duly exercised powers and capacities which were in a sense held in trust for them. "We are apt to overlook the importance of individual action in such cases, not noticing that the progress of a race depends on the aggregate of acts by the individual members of the race.

To take a concrete instance here, as of the simpler case: If a number of persons in any nation or at any epoch, impelled by a desire to benefit their fellows, devote their lives to celibacy, they influence in important degree the qualities of the next and succeeding generations. They diminish the proportion in which their personal qualities—presumably valuable—will appear in future generations, and relatively increase the proportion of other and less desirable qualities. This is obvious enough. It should, however, be almost as clear that, in whatever degree such persons in a community as possess the best qualities fail to advance, in all things just, their personal interests, they diminish the influence of the better qualities, not only in their own time, but in times to come. If, to take another concrete example, all persons of the better sort, forgetting their duties to themselves and their race, enter of set purpose on lives of poverty, asceticism, and dreariness, they not only diminish in large degree the good they might do during life, but they injure their offspring, and, through them, posterity.[1]

Under its biological aspect, then, the doctrine that care of self must necessarily take precedence of care and thought for others, is incontestable—it is the merest truism—though many speak, and some act, as if the doctrine were iniquitous.

  1. Many would probably be startled if a just estimate could be formed of the degree in which the qualities of the civilized races of the world have suffered through the well-meant but mistaken zeal which led large classes of men in former ages to sacrifice their power to do good in order to do good.